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After FibreGarden – Garsdale and Dentdale Eye BT or B4RN Broadband Fix

Friday, February 5th, 2016 (9:06 am) - Score 1,335

Residents of Garsdale and Dentdale in rural Cumbria (England) are debating two possible fixes for securing faster broadband, which follows last year’s dramatic failure of the Fibre GarDen (Digital Dales) scheme. One of the options involves going back to BT, while the other would call in the B4RN team.

The previous community supported Fibre GarDen project ran into a series of problems, which involved everything from managerial failings to serious contractor disputes with the ITS Technology Group and sub-contractors (e.g. here, here, and here), and as yet the outcome of all that remains uncertain. We’re particularly keen to know where all the local money went.

Meanwhile the two communities have been left to ponder the future. The original goal of Fibre GarDen had been to roll-out a new 100Mbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP/H) broadband network, which could have served around 580 premises in the villages, but obviously that plan is perhaps terminally stalled.

The last official update, which came via way of Garsdale Parish Council, suggests an alternative approach is now being considered that could potentially achieve the original goal or at least come close to it.

Garsdale Parish Council (Jan 2016 FibreGarden Update)

The AGM in November 2015 instructed the Board to consider alternative options and work has carried on over the last couple of months to explore these. … The project has clearly received a major setback but there are options for a way forward which can achieve the original objective of fibre to the home for every property in the two dales.

With a positive attitude for 2016 there is the potential to achieve our goal although this is likely to be with a significantly different approach.

After a bit of digging ISPreview.co.uk has learnt that there are currently two fairly firm solutions being considered, one of which involves the obvious approach of going back cap-in-hand to rescope for BT’s original proposal under the local Broadband Delivery UK scheme (Connecting Cumbria).

However BT’s approach may only benefit those in Dent and would still leave others excluded, which equates to around 155 potentially neglected premises. Interestingly the local authority has also been asked to “consider how many of those [155] households would actually wish to use it“.

The second option has come from a group called NEWCO, which is perhaps better perceived as being another one of B4RN’s spin-off projects. Regular readers will already know that B4RN has made a very successful model out of building affordable 1Gbps FTTP/H broadband networks in Lancashire, which are funded and built by the local community.

Recently B4RN has been busy moving into the border areas of Yorkshire and Cumbria, which means that they’re now in a position to potentially help both Garsdale and Dentdale. At this stage the details are very thin and there’s also a question mark over whether locals would even be willing to commit any more time or money to another community scheme (once bitten, twice shy). Mind you B4RN have a very strong track record and, unlike Fibre GarDen, their management is sensible.

Both options are currently being seriously explored, although they don’t appear to have come up in the latest council meeting and so a decision might not occur until the spring. At least by now the locals should be very familiar with the broadband waiting game. Meanwhile.. FibreGarden’s website is still infested with a virus.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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19 Responses
  1. Steve Jones says:

    Given the cost of taking FTTP to those outliers is likely to be prohibitive using the sort of commercial costs that major operators incur (something explicitly recognised in the B4RN project plan), you do wonder it it would be worth OR working on a co-operative model which would allow for certain elements to be done via volunteer labour to defined connection points. So, for example, fibre to remote properties could be “self-installed” and then adopted (in the way that councils adopt the roads in a new housing development after they’ve been signed off). That would relieve local volunteer units from the ongoing overhead of maintenance and operation.

    Of course I suspect I know the answer in that it would have the potential to be nightmarishly complicated and be very difficult to administer and would still involve OR “signing off” any installations. Also, permanent wayleave agreemens would have to be in place. There would also have to be a a mountain of technical standards, but then there is a type of precedent in that it’s developers that put in telecoms conduits to OR standards.

    But it still might be worth thinking OR thinking about it.

    1. chris says:

      Signing off a road for a local authority to adopt once you have built it is one thing, but building a fibre network and then signing it off is another. There is very little maintenance with a fibre network, and profit to be made. Being charged through the nose for an inferior product delivered by the incumbent is a heavy price to pay for your investment in time and money. OR offer two products, infinity and FOD. The openreach price for a gigabit symmetrical is £2k a month. The B4RN price is £30 a month, and they can still make a profit which has to be returned to the project or community. I can’t see any way that build and benefit OR will work. If communities have to fund raise, volunteer labour and give free wayleave, then they should be able to reap the benefit, not someone else.

      FibreGarDen got sucked into the mess that is BDUK, the community is still intact and will hopefully rally and rise from the ashes having learnt valuable lessons about trusting suits.

    2. MikeW says:

      The precedent is indeed there – that developers routinely install the telco ducting that will be handed over to Openreach. Not just handed over, as the work is paid for by Openreach.

      The negative side is that Openreach will expect their new ducting to follow all the principles for installing infrastructure in the highway – and that the highway will eventually be adopted – so ensuring future access rights. I’m not sure you’ll ever see volunteers able to work on the highway.

      The three tricks needed here will be that
      a) Openreach will have to accept work done on private land, rather than the highway.
      b) The landowner will have to accept limited income rights for the wayleaves.
      c) The community will have to accept that their labour offsets a huge bill, and is what makes the job feasible to Openreach in the first place.

      Chris has already added her opinion that (c) is impossible.

      I’m not so sure. We’ve already seen communities that would rather not organise their own operational telco, and just pay for the service instead.

    3. Steve Jones says:

      We know CHris’s opinion. It was never going to be productive. I’m just looking at ways to reduce the initial capital cost to make projects more viable. As for making profits, that’s something of a joke in the last 5%. The last 5% of coverage is a loss maker due to the costs of investment and much more expensive maintenance bills, costs of wayleaves etc. At least for a commercial operator. It can work in concentrated clusters commercially, but it’s the outliers that are the killer. The telephone network is cross-subsidised by urban areas and that justifies the USO. When people complain about the bb provision, then they forget that there’s precisely zero incremental income to OR for just carrying BB. Only GEA/FTTC provides that, otherwise there isn’t any extra revenue to pay for huge investments. No investor is going to put up the required sums without any prospect of a return.

      Nb. Any idea that anything put in the ground won’t require significant maintenance in the long run is going to get a rude surprise. It may not need it for some time, but it will happen with weather, Ground movement, tree roots, stuff being dug up and so on.

    4. Gadget says:

      Chris, are you sure you are not comparing an uncontended 1Gbps business circuit, complete with SLAs and SLGs with a consumer offering which is contended, and has completely different service levels?

  2. Jon March says:

    If you were considering doing a bit digging yourself to get a service to your house, would you starting kissing a frog and hope it turns into prince to finish the job for you?!

    1. themanstan says:

      We´ll these guys kissed a prince and he turned into a frog!

  3. chris says:

    thanks Gadget, I just took that price off their site. If its cheaper for residential or even possible then do post the price here, I am quite happy to stand corrected.

    Steve please don’t assume we know nothing. We know maintenance is required, but rotting copper, rotting poles and exchanges falling down and massive electrical costs are not a problem with modern infrastructure so maintenance is far lower for fibre.

    Perhaps if it is too difficult for OR to build then the subsidy should go to those who can build it Mike? I didn’t say C was impossible, I said doing C was stupid. It is totally possible as Bellend have proved. They built the network and handed it over to OR who now charge them an arm and a leg if they want the top speeds bt can offer, so they settle for infinity. And symmetrical it ain’t. Nor is it hyperfast. But at least they have a fibre in, so when the future eventually comes they will be ready. Its just that they aren’t keeping the profits they earned. We all have free choice. Nothing is impossible.

    1. FibreFred says:

      Nothing is too difficult Chris, there a circuits into all sorts of remote locations across the UK which OR have put and continue to put in there. It’s just cost.

      When a big business is paying for it OR get that money back pronto, but when its residentials paying <£30 a month for the service as a whole (never mind the connection itself) it doesn't stack up that well.

    2. MikeW says:

      “Its just that they aren’t keeping the profits they earned”

      That’s the mental block issue. That money /has/ to be earned from the venture.

      Sticking to this principle is the thing that ensures *no* telco will get involved – requiring the locals to run their own telco ala B4RN.

      (Don’t get me wrong … if people want to stick to that principle, then fine. They just need to understand the consequence).

      Not everyone sees it the same way. They understand that there are other benefits than just money, and are prepared to make offsets. Getting a balance right here could well get many more communities up and running.

  4. chris says:

    Spot on Fibre Fred. That is why the funding should have gone to those who were prepared to do it and those prepared to wait for profits. Not to enable the monopoly to cherrypick lucrative areas to make them go a bit faster and leave those on long lines on slow connections. Every cabinet has people on long or damaged lines that can’t get ‘superfast’ and until everyone has a decent connection we can never claim to be a digital nation. Fibregarden could have pulled it off in their area but for the funding process which completely screwed it up instead of enabling it. None of the other groups even got as far as funding, they gave up years ago. Fibre GarDen has exposed the weakness of the system. Hopefully lessons have been learned in the hallowed halls of BDUK.

    1. GNewton says:

      @chris: “Hopefully lessons have been learned in the hallowed halls of BDUK.”

      There is hope. One of the proposed alternative options for newer BDUK followup-phases is that of public-private partnership arrangements. This would have made much more sense from the beginning rather than just giving money away to BT who had no need for it. Granted, there is this clawback mechanism, but in most cases it only serves for BT to extend its VDSL coverage a bit. And in the end only BT will own all the new infrastructures, resulting in a stronger taxpayer-funded monopoly.

    2. FibreFred says:

      BDUK was a mess, I think we can all agree on that.

    3. TheFacts says:

      ‘in the end only BT will own all the new infrastructures’. They won’t because VM and others are building.

      As with gas, electric, water, drains. Monopolies.


    4. GNewton says:

      @TheFacts: “They won’t because VM and others are building.”

      I was talking about the BDUK-funded projects (VDSL infratructures). VM was not involved in the BDUK.

    5. TheFacts says:

      If a different supplier rolled out in an area they would own the infrastructure, what’s the real difference?

      We have single suppliers for gas, electric, water, drains infrastructure.

    6. GNewton says:

      @TheFacts: “If a different supplier rolled out in an area they would own the infrastructure, what’s the real difference?”

      You just don’t get it, do you? I was talking about the BDUK-funded projects.

    7. FibreFred says:

      Whoever won the contracts would have owned the infrastructure. We could have had lots of little local monopolies with no doubt a choice of one isp.

  5. chris conder says:

    If you had a choice of 100 ISPs all selling copper and one local community ‘monopoly’ selling you fibre at phenomenal speeds for less money, what would you prefer FibreFred?
    Anyway, the new ‘local monopoly’ isn’t really, because there is still what was available, still available, from the main monopoly. Also we are finding that wherever a new company builds out fibre, BT roll up and overbuild anyway, so the choice still remains. The service from the altnet with real fibre is better and cheaper than the service from Monopoly FTTC BT, with however many ISPs you want to choose from.

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